Award Travel Las Vegas – The Travel Hacker’s Guide to a Weekend in Vegas

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Inside: Follow along as I walk you through award travel in Las Vegas. Learn the secrets to experiencing unforgettable (and affordable) fun in Sin City with this Travel Hacker’s Guide to a Weekend in Vegas!

Birthdays. We all have them. And they keep on coming. Every single year, like clockwork.

While the notion of growing older isn’t all that exciting after the age of 21, luckily for me, I’m married to a travel hacker.

And like many travel hackers, at MY house, we celebrate family birthdays with a fun trip! One year, my husband took me on an incredible tour of Northern Italy. One year, we hopped on a flight to San Francisco.

And this year?

My husband treated me to an unforgettable weekend in Las Vegas! He flew us from the cold winter in the heart of Ohio to the sunny desert. We stayed in a gorgeous room right on the Vegas strip and played in a popular casino. He treated me to coffee and pastries each morning, lunch and dinner in some of Vegas’s top restaurants and several shows or various entertainment each night.

His cost? Taxes and gratuities. 

For a travel hacker, the only things cooler than the trip itself are the deals you score along the way. And I thought it’d be fun to give you a glimpse into how much fun award travel in Vegas can be!

Ready to get started?

The Travel Hacker’s Guide to a Weekend in Las Vegas

award travel las vegas

Award Flights to Vegas

For domestic travel, there’s no airline I love more than Southwest! It’s true – in fact, I even wrote an open love letter to the airline.  Southwest Airlines consistently ranks as having the top airline rewards program in the USA, and it’s clear to see why. It’s incredibly easy to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, which gives you buy 1 get 1 flights. (Even better, you can “buy” the first flight with Southwest points!)

Amit has an incredibly helpful guide to everything you need to know about the Southwest Companion pass, so make sure you check it out!

We were able to book direct flights because Las Vegas is a Southwest hub. When we got on board, my husband was super friendly and helpful, even assisting fellow passengers with putting their bags in the overhead bin. The flight attendant came over to thank him for his help, and he casually mentioned that it was my birthday.

Travel Hacking Tip #1: Always be nice, and let people know if you’re celebrating a birthday or anniversary.

The attendant wished me a happy birthday, and later dropped off FOUR free drink tickets on my lap with a wink and a smile. Oh, how I adore Southwest!

travel hacking las vegas

Airport Experience & Hotel Transfer

We were lucky to have direct flights, but for those of you who might have a layover, airport lounges are amazing. (We also love them for preflight fun.)

They give you a quiet spot to relax and recharge and offer complimentary drinks, cocktails, snacks, and treats. Because let’s be honest, the only thing worse than airport food is having to pay outrageous sums of money to purchase it. We love Amex Platinum cards because they give you access to both Priority Pass AND Centurion lounges. Las Vegas has one of the BEST Centurion lounges.

Another perk of the Amex Platinum? Uber credits! We grabbed an Uber, our favorite way to transfer from the airport to our hotel on the strip (for FREE) using this credit.

Travel Hacking Tip #2: The Amex Platinum cards come with a fairly hefty annual fee, but make sure you follow Amit’s Facebook group (Credit Card 101) for tips on how to get an Amex Platinum product with all the benefits for NO annual fee!

The VIP Vegas Experience

Warning, this part may seem a bit complicated if you’re brand new to travel hacking, but allow me to help you step into the mind of a seasoned travel hacker. Deep breath, we got this.

Another perk of the Amex Platinum card is automatic Hilton Gold status. We’re going to need that.

Step 1: Match your newly acquired Hilton Gold status to Wyndham Rewards. (Here’s the link you’ll need.) This process takes a few days, but soon you’ll have DIAMOND status without spending a night in their hotels. Wyndham is not our favorite hotel chain, but Diamond status is awesome for what we’re going to do next.

Step 2: Match your Wyndham Rewards Diamond status to Total Rewards. They will also give you Diamond status. (Here’s the link you’ll need.) This will take a few days to process.

Wondering why I just made you do all that? Glad you asked.

Here’s why:

Total Rewards status is for highly elite gamblers who spend (and probably lose) a LOT of money in their casinos. By clicking a few buttons online, you’ve now upgraded your status in the eyes of the casino. Total Reward Diamond status members receive INCREDIBLE benefits.

Just a few of my favorites include: A 4 day stay at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, $100 dining credit to their top restaurants (like Nobu, Hell’s Kitchen, or the Bacchanal Buffet), free valet or self-parking, complimentary show tickets, and even comped resort fees. And so much more!

For our complimentary show tickets, I picked a stand up comedy show, and a Tenors of Rock show which was FANTASTIC! I would highly recommend their concert if you’re as obsessed with classic rock as I am!

Tenors of Rock Show in Las Vegas from Lakes and Lattes on Vimeo.

Travel Hacking a Hotel in Vegas

You have several options here.

Option # 1: The easiest way to a hack a hotel room in Vegas would be to book any available comped rooms through your Total Rewards Diamond status. These are easy to find if you are traveling to Las Vegas in the low season (typically August – October) and staying midweek.

If you’d like to go this route, I recommend downloading the Total Rewards app on your phone and searching through it.

Bonus: There’s no resort fees to pay since you now have Diamond Status.

Option # 2: Since we were visiting Las Vegas over the weekend in November, we didn’t have much luck with finding a comped room that worked for our schedule. So we decided to book a hotel directly through the Chase portal, using our accumulated Ultimate Rewards points.

Option # 3: Transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt and booking a classic MGM property (MGM Grand, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Aria, New York-New York, etc).

MGM Resorts has a partnership with Hyatt that allows you to book their rooms using Hyatt points. Please note: This option means that you WILL have to pay resort fees.

*If you’re wondering which option to pick between #2 and #3, I’d recommend pricing them both out to see which option works out in your favor. We found a great deal at the Vdara Las Vegas through the Chase portal.

How to Hack Free Meals and Drinks in Vegas

Part of what makes Las Vegas so incredible is the easy access to some of the country’s best dining options. The problem? Restaurants can be pretty expensive.

Luckily, I have a few hacks up my sleeve!

Hack #1: Remember that Total Rewards Diamond status you’ve now earned? It comes with an awesome dining perk. $100 towards a meal at ANY of the Caesar’s Palace affiliated resort restaurants. We’re talking restaurants like Mesa Grill, Nobu, Giada, Guy Savoy, etc. 

My husband and I were playing what we call “two player mode” (we each were able to match to Total Rewards Diamond status.) This meant we had $200 to spend at any of the affiliated hotels!

Hack #2: MyVegas. This is going to sound super silly, but it’s fantastic! Not sure if any of you can relate, but I married a gamer. What I mean by that is that my husband LOVES to play games. Computer games. Board games. Card games. Playstation. And even silly app games on his iPad. And somehow, he came across a series of apps called MyVegas. These games allow you to earn points that you can redeem for REAL comps in Vegas. Genius, right?

Some of the comps we redeemed during my birthday weekend in Vegas included:

  • $50 in bar credit at NY-NY casino. (Side note, do you know how hard it is to order $50 worth of cocktails when they are so dang cheap during happy hour? #TheStruggleIsReal)
  • Free Starbucks 
  • $80+ in restaurant vouchers which equaled breakfast and lunch for both of us.

Other popular comp redemptions include things like free hotel stays, free Cirque du Soleil tickets, concert tickets, helicopter rides, and special events just to name a few!

You can check out the MyVegas apps in your iPhone/Android app store.

I hope you enjoyed my Travel Hacker’s Guide to a Weekend in Vegas! Do you have any award travel tips to add?

The counter-intuitive approach to Chase Sapphire cards

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By now, you would be aware that the Chase 5/24 rule has been extended to each of the Chase personal credit cards, including it’s co-branded cards.
In August 2018, Chase changed the sign-up bonus eligibility criteria for its Sapphire series of cards. Traditionally, you would be eligible for a new sign-up bonus on a Sapphire card after 24-month from your last Sapphire bonus. The Conventional path was something like this –
Conventional Chase path
Now, the current language states that one can only get a sign-up bonus for the Sapphire line of cards after 48 months from receipt of the first sign-up bonus. For most people in the hobby, 4 years is a long time to hold Ultimate Rewards without using them, since any form of points and miles almost always depreciate. We are also assuming that within these 4 years, you have become seasoned at the points and miles game and understand that the Sapphire Reserve card is something you cannot not have!
So, with the new sign-up bonus rules in place, I adopted a lesser known, counter-intuitive approach –
New Chase path
While the obvious difference is the missed sign-up bonus on the second card, I see it differently here; Chase would have only allowed me to get one sign-up bonus in 4 years. How would I maximize the value at the least cost?
First, I started out with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which helped me accumulate 50,000 sign-up bonus points, same as the Sapphire Reserve, but without any annual fee in the first year. I decided to get my account seasoned, deep dive into the hobby, understand the benefits of the CSP vs. CSR, and then when the annual fee hit for the second year, I simply upgraded my credit card from the Preferred to the Reserve.
So, same sign-up bonus, avoided annual fees for the first year, and landed in a better position to redeem all the accumulated Ultimate Rewards, albeit at a higher redemption rate of 1.5x (CSP redemption is at 1.25x). You also save end up saving a very important slot in the 5/24 rule since you are not applying for a new card. This becomes even more important now that Chase has started considering most of its personal credit cards under 5/24.
So if you try to redeem your Sign-Up bonus via the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal, here is how it looks with the two cards –
Redemption via Chase UR portal
By following my strategy, you will be able to save annual fees in the first year, and then hop on to a card which offers incredible premium benefits for an effective annual fee of $150 (after the $300 travel credit), or just $50 once every 4 years, if you choose to enroll for the Global Entry program and pay the fees using the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Let me provide a more realistic view – If you are like me, casually trying to accumulate points and have only been in the hobby for a year or so, or are just starting out and intending to slowly build up your Ultimate Rewards points, here is how your points would look at the end of the year  –
Existing UR summary
The Sapphire Reserve (image, above) truly shines with a little over the 200,000 UR’s in my possession. After upgrading to the Reserve yesterday, here’s my redemption calculation –
Personal UR Redemption calculation
Yes, this simple upgrade increases the value of my points to more than the Annual Fees of this card, and it also offers me Priority Pass access (one trip a year is also worth it) and many more benefits!
Not Convinced Yet?
What are the factors holding you back from getting a Sapphire Reserve?
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